‘Three photos on your travels’ by Agnes Lam

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Way back in November of last year, I went to the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and saw a host of wonderful writers (many of which I had never heard of before) give talks on their books or advice on writing. One such writer was Hong Kong’s own poet, Agnes Lam. Known as the forerunner of Asian poetry in English, Lam gave a talk on what it truly means to become a poet. Focusing mainly on areas like getting your work out there in the public eye and finding publishers (which didn’t really interest me), Lam also gave some insightful recommendations of other Asian poets who write in English. Ranging from China to the Philippines to Taiwan to Singapore, there are an array of writers who choose to use English to write poetry, which Lam states is ‘the closest thing to your voice’. I found this a very interesting concept for someone who’s mother tongue is Cantonese and it brought to mind the postcolonial literature modules I took at university where the argument for and against using English was often debated.

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Anyway, whilst I continue to write my review for Ali Smith’s How to Be Both (which is taking longer than expected to complete) I thought I would share with you a poem I stumbled across yesterday. As I was browsing the shelves in Kubrick I saw that they produced a number of poetry cards called Kubrick poetry. Although the majority of them were in Chinese, I found one by Agnes Lam entitled ‘Three photos on your travels’, written in 2006:

Three photos on your travels

Above your bed

hang three photos

taken on your travels,

each size about the size of

a sheet of writing paper.

On the left,

before historic buildings,

a road in a city of fast traffic,

the cars invisible, only lines

of multicoloured light

shooting across

the night.

In the middle,

another road on a mountain slope,

a cave by the roadside,

a small shop with no door,

simple objects hanging inside,

light pouring amber from the cave,

darkness all around.

On the right,

a wooden jetty,

a bank of snow,

the air tinged with blue light,

the dawn about to break

on the water at the far

end of the jetty…

From Hong Kong to Oxford,

from Oxford to London,

From London to Harvard,

road after road

you must have walked on,

sometimes in the company of friends,

perhaps after a dinner,

but more often alone

after library hours,

your backpack of law

books, a 5 kg laptop

weighing on your spine.

Perhaps

you were thinking

of going home

to your room

of light

in the vast mountain

of darkness around you.

Perhaps

you were waiting

at the end of the jetty

for the sun to rise

to warm the water,

the snow,

your face…

I do not know

what the future holds for you,

what other roads you will travel.

But I know

you have been brave

trekking by yourself

through the city of the night,

the darkness in the mountain,

the ice of no woman’s land

only with the light in

your young heart,

the little space of rest,

your home,

your bed.

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